If you’re of a certain age, your go-to fairy-tale movie was The Wizard of Oz. It had magic ruby slippers, good and wicked witches, a tin man, and a talking, dancing scarecrow.
Over the past 27 years, though, movie fans have been increasingly drawn to The Princess Bride. It has swashbuckling swordsman, Rodents of Unusual Size, a bona-fide giant, and Billy Crystal as an ancient, wise-cracking wizard.
Like The Wizard of Oz, The Princess Bride enjoyed lukewarm success at the box office. But repeated showings (in Bride’s case, through VHS and DVD) helped make both films beloved classics.
Now, fans of The Princess Bride can take a behind-the-scenes look at how it was made, thanks to As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, a new book by Cary Elwes, who played Westley, aka, The Man in Black, one of the film’s leads.
Elwes got the idea for the book while attending a celebration of the film’s 25th anniversary at New York’s Lincoln Center. There, he reflected on the place the movie has in his life.
“There wasn’t time to adequately put into words exactly how I felt, so that’s what I’m trying to do now with this book,” he writes in the introduction. “The film gave me a career in the arts, and it gave me the life that I have today; a life I feel privileged to enjoy. That’s not an overstatement.
“I still get fan mail today from children all over the world,” writes Elwes. “I even have to be careful not to walk into the wrong aisle at Toys ‘R’ Us, lest I find myself suddenly under siege by little tykes with plastic swords and shields.”
The story of the film’s creation began with William Goldman, the author of the 1973 novel upon which the movie was based. In Elwes’ book, Goldman calls The Princess Bride “the favorite thing I’ve ever written in my life,” adding, “I want it on my tombstone.”
Both the novel and the film tell the story of the Westley (Elwes), a former farmboy turned pirate, who sets out to rescue the beautiful Buttercup, a princess who is being forced to marry the malevolent Prince Humperdink. During his adventure, Westley is aided by such characters as the revenge-obsessed Inigo Montoya, a behemoth named Fezzik, and the wizardly Miracle Max.
“I had been a huge fan of Goldman’s from the first book he ever wrote,” recalls director Rob Reiner in As You Wish. Reiner said that he “just fell in love” with The Princess Bride upon reading it. “To me,” he said, “the highlight of my career was getting William Goldman to agree to let me do this thing.”
Producer Andrew Scheinman describes casting key players in the film, including Robin Wright (Buttercup), and the late professional wrestler Andre the Giant (Fezzik).
“For many of these parts, we didn’t have a second choice,” said Scheinman. “We didn’t have a second for Buttercup, we didn’t have a second for Fezzik—for sure! And we didn’t have a second for Cary. If we didn’t find these people, then we didn’t have a movie.”
The film is also notable for its spot-on cameo appearances by performers such as Billy Crystal, who played the memorable Miracle Max. “I had this fantastic makeup, a character that was in my wheelhouse, and a director who totally trusted me and just let me go,” Crystal recalls in As You Wish. “It was just a little beauty. A perfectly constructed three-minute scene. You’re in, you’re out. It’s really the definition of a good cameo.”
Sometimes, shooting the film was as much of an adventure as the tale the movie told. One scene took place in a Fire Swamp and involved Buttercup’s dress catching on fire. It was Goldman himself who would thwart the filmmakers’ plans that day as he visited the set, unaware of what was going on.
“As soon as he saw Robin on fire, he naturally thought there had been some sort of accident. Thus, he yelled out something to the effect of, “OH MY GOD! SHE’S ON FIRE!!!” effectively ruining another take.”
In the book, Elwes reflects on the legacy of The Princess Bride. “It’s certainly one of the most often-quoted films in cinema history,” he writes, citing lines such as:
- “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
- “Have fun storming the castle!”
- “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
Why does the film live on for legions of fans? “I think that the film has endured is because it was made with a lot of heart,” Elwes writes. “The film is indeed magical.”
Encounters with both older and younger fans of The Princess Bride are now commonplace, Elwes writes. He describes waitresses invariable engaging him in conversation:
“And how would you like that cooked?”
Smile. Occasional wink. “As you wish!”